PDNB Gallery’s “The Bauhaus in Texas” examines the state’s ties to the global art movement
Affirmation of the continuing influence of the Bauhaus school is all around us, from the buildings we occupy to the homes we live in, the furniture and design objects we use and admire, and the works of art. art and photography that we cannot take our eyes away from.
The Bauhaus was an avant-garde school founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919 that sought to synthesize fine arts and crafts, graphic illustration, textile design and performance art with the industrial production and architecture. An adventurous willingness to experiment wrapped in a spirit of play has characterized all of these endeavors.
An exhibition with nearly 40 photographs at the PDNB Gallery, “The Bauhaus in Texas,” features primarily abstract art photography informed by Bauhaus principles, moving the medium far beyond what we normally expect.
A victim of the inevitable collision between art and politics, the school was closed by the Nazi Party in 1933 after Adolf Hitler seized power. Fearing free speech and progressive ideas, the party branded the school an agent of “foreign” elements, sending the teachers into exile, a kind of Bauhaus diaspora that spread its aesthetic ideology around the world .
Several settled in the United States, in particular Professor László Moholy-Nagy, a constructivist artist and photographer who eventually became director of the New Bauhaus in Chicago.
He came to Texas in 1942 to teach a summer course at Denton at the Texas State College for Women, now Texas Woman’s University, forever connecting the Bauhaus to Texas.
Nagy’s assistant, photographer György Kepes, was also present as an instructor that year, and again in 1944. Examples of Kepes’ work are displayed here, as is the work of Carlotta Corpron, professor of art at TWU from 1935 to 1968, and his students Ida Lansky and Barbara Maples, whose work also bore fruit from the Bauhaus aesthetic.
Many of the photographs in the exhibition, mostly of women, show the artists’ intent to push the boundaries of the medium at the time, redefining the practice of photography itself.
In the mysterious Watermark, taken by Lansky here in Dallas at Temple Emanu-El in 1960, the artist’s lens looks through the exterior architectural structure from inside the building. Its camera angle and use of light transform the structure into a fascinating abstract image without any major manipulation of the negative itself.
Conversely, in a previous captivating piece, Picture, she experiments with the workings of chance using the photogram technique. The process does not require a camera, resulting in a mostly dark image with flashes of distorted shapes bathed in light, made using objects found in the studio.
At Corpron Light follows form (1946), several curving plaster casts fill the photograph, whose lighting depends on light-filtering Venetian blinds. Bands of light and shadow from blinds cut through the image, adding to the depth and volume of objects in the real space.
More constructivist, Kepes uses the human figure, with a woman of three quarters. In Juliet’s shadow in a cage (1939), the subject’s face is seen through a square cutout that casts multiple shadows on her cheek, forehead, and the wall beyond. It’s an image you’ll never tire of looking at, building on the achievements in the style of early 1920s innovators.
“The Bauhaus in Texas” is an important exhibition that has so many ties to Texas that it deserves to travel to several places, but that’s not how the gallery business works.
Exclusive to the PDNB, it mainly presents works by women photographers, pioneers and teachers who paved the way for future generations.
Take the time to pass. They deserve your attention.
“The Bauhaus in Texas” continues through April 2 at PDNB Gallery, 150 Manufacturing St., Suite 203, Dallas. Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free. Call 214-969-1852 or visit pdnbgallery.com.